And we're off!
This is the first week of Sunday Sentence, so if you missed the post explaining the activity, click here for more details.
To start we have three sentences for you to translate, taken from page 13 of Jin Yong's 金庸《射雕英雄传》(first released in 1959), entitled A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes 1) in Anna Holmwood's translation.
Please input your translation in the comments box at the bottom of the page.
The sentences to translate are: 他脚步甚快，顷刻间奔出数丈。曲叁右手往怀中一掏，跟着扬手，月光下只见一块圆盘似的黑物飞将出去，托的一下轻响，嵌入了那武官后脑。那武官惨声长叫，单刀脱手飞出，双手乱舞，仰天缓缓倒下，扭转了几下，就此不动，眼见是不活了。
Remember, you can post your translation today or any day next week, so you have plenty of time to think about it and there's no need to rush.
This Sunday 31st May begins a two-month activity of online translation workshopping which anyone and everyone who knows Chinese and writes English can get involved with. A famously lonely endeavor, translation, when done with others, becomes a rambunctious language game in which all the best nitpicking and head scratching go on. So since face-to-face workshops are called off for the foreseeable future, Paper Republic is launching Sunday Sentence, or in Chinese, 一周一句!
Every Sunday a sentence will be posted here on the website as well as on Twitter and Facebook, and you are invited to have a go translating it! The sentences have been picked by PR team members and other CH-EN translators for being particularly challenging to render in English for some reason or another, challenging enough we hope to produce endless different possible translations and start some discussion around the strategies people employ when translating literary Chinese and the reasons behind their decisions. All translations and discussion should be posted in the comment sections of the Sunday Sentence page when it goes online.
First up is a sentence picked by Anna Holmwood, translator of Jin Yong! So to whet your wuxia appetite, from this Saturday onward, you can listen to Angus Stewart’s conversation with another translator of Jin Yong, Gigi Chang, on the Translated Chinese Fiction podcast
See you this Sunday!
Ms. Yu’s later attempts to publish stories in English, however, were rejected by American publishers. “They were only interested in stories that fit the pattern of Oriental exoticism — the feet-binding of women and the addiction of opium-smoking men,” she once recalled in an interview. “I didn’t want to write that stuff, I wanted to write about the struggle of Chinese immigrants in American society.”
Writers in lockdown are, like everyone else, feeling pale and postoperative. The pandemic has thrown a spanner into best-laid plans. A diary, as soldiers, prisoners and invalids have long understood, can be a good way to write oneself out of a bad spot.
The Chinese novelist Fang Fang lives in downtown Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. After that city went into quarantine in January, she began keeping an online diary about her experience. Wuhan remained shut down for 76 days, and is still struggling to return to anything resembling normalcy.
When Nicky Harman and I received Jia Pingwa’s invitation to visit him in Xi’an last spring ("Jia Pingwa's Hometown"), apart from being mobbed by fans at an opera performance and shepherded through a tour of Xi Zhongxun’s old cave home by enthusiastic local bureaucrats and Party functionaries (many not even born when Jia’s literary stardom reached its first peak in the early 1990s), the most surreal experience was poking around his writing desk. The desk itself is obscured completely by towers of books. To get to the chair he sits at to write, which is draped with fur, you need to be slim enough to slide between two walls of stacked up novels, reference manuals, works on local customs history books, and volumes of poetry. The available work area on the desktop is also limited—there are too many books piled up, and there has to be room for a carton of cigarettes and an ashtray, too. When we visited in the spring, the small amount of available work area was covered in pages from a novel that he was writing—black felt-tip pen on white pages, longhand—a biscuit tin (for completed pages), and left open beside it, a book of Eileen Chang short stories.
He told us that it would be an urban novel.
That would make it his first extended return to the city since Happy Dreams高兴 in 2007 (it’s a book he doesn’t consider an urban novel, since it concerns migrant workers from the countryside).
Of course, his novels are invariably never about just the city or just country, but about the tension between them, characters trapped perpetually in between. The idea of an extended return to the city, though, years on from urban novels like White Nights白夜, was intriguing.
When I returned late last summer for the 29th China National Book Expo ("迪兰先生, world famous Sinologist / 第29届书博会"), Jia was talking publicly about a city book, for which he was still working on final drafts.
The novel (or perhaps novels) will be published by the Writers Publishing House作家出版社 in July, and some lucky people have already gotten their hands on it, but the Jia Pingwa Research Institute 贾平凹文化艺术研究院 earlier today posted the afterword of the announced novel:
The Jia Pingwa afterword is almost a genre in itself. It's the reason why Jia's novels are best started from the rear—you need the afterword to explain what you're about to read.
In the afterword to Sit Awhile暂坐, Jia explains that the germ of the novel was a tea shop in his building, where he drank tea twice a day, and his observations of the peculiar world of the owner and the women that drifted through. He writes in this novel about women, mostly, he says, because he lacked confidence. “I found myself no longer writing the women, but the women writing me.”
It makes sense now why he might have been referring back to Eileen Chang’s short stories. I quite like the idea of Jia Pingwa attempting a Chu T'ien-wen-style novel about the interconnected lives of urban women.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the Nicky Harman's masterful translation of Jia's Broken Wings极花 for ACA ("‘Broken Wings’: Jia Pingwa’s Controversial Novel Explores Human Trafficking And Rural China"), and noted the sharp criticism that followed its original publication, with the author branded a male chauvinist. On the contrary, I've always found Jia's women characters mostly sympathetic and—in recent books, at least— usually rendered with more care than his male characters. But it will be interesting to see if the critics that appeared for Broken Wings will pop up again.
Anna Sherman’s travelogue, in which she traverses parts of the Silk Road while retracing Xuanzang’s pilgrimage from Chang’an to India, has become a major talking point on Twitter since it was published May 11.
The essay, with stunning photographs of desert sites in Gansu and Xinjiang, cites a host of Chinese poets such as Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Wang Wei and Yu Xin, as well as fiction writers Tung Yueh (The Tower of Myriad Mirrors), Pu Songling (Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio), and the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions). Indeed, her piece is entitled A Poetic Journey through Western China.
A major point of controversy: Where are the Uyghurs of today, or yesteryear for that matter? In fact, they were patrons of the famous Dunhuang Grottoes whose murals often feature Uyghur culture and personages, for they were Buddhists (and practioners of Zoroastrianism and Manicheanism) before they converted to Sufi-inspired Sunni Islam.
The word “Uighur” occurs just 8 times in the 5,800-word piece, and they are described as a “minority ethnic group.” The only major reference to them is this: (Today, Xinjiang is the site of hundreds of mass internment camps, where more than a million individuals from China’s Uighur and other Indigenous ethnic groups are being held indefinitely without trial by the government.)
With the exception of Li Bai, Sherman’s main literary reference points appear to be Han writers who have been frequently (and somewhat famously) translated into English. Is this narrative simply the result of her preferences? Due to a lack of translations from other languages along the Silk Road? Or?
To everyone's surprise and delight, we got a total of 124 participants from around the world, each giving us their rendering of an essay by Deng Anqing.
We scrambled into technical competence, setting up four Zoom meetings in three different time zones, and leading translation workshops with the goal of producing a readable consensus text. We're still in the process of editing that particular Frankenstein – look for it to be published next Thursday, May 21st – but in the meantime we made a (very) short video about the process, also on Zoom, natch. Enjoy!
. . . as far as Chinese literature is concerned, while we have too much “experience that is not human experience”—too abnormal to be understood as experience commonly shared by human society—we cannot write a “Chinese novel” that is worthy of this “Chinese experience.” Our fiction is just too “nineteenth century,” and is too much like a novel. I certainly cannot do it myself, but I am very eager for Chinese writers, especially young writers, to write novels of an alien Chinese experience — a novel that is not a novel, and one that will add a little fresh blood to the history of Chinese and even world literature.
This essay by Italy's Marco Fumian does a great job of giving a wider context to Fang Fang's diary, and unpacking the elements of the recent smear campaign against her:
In an article published online a few weeks ago, Yan Lianke 阎连科 lamented that Chinese literature, in the face of the raging epidemic and given its incapacity to bring material comfort to those in need, has already become powerless and marginal. What he really meant, was precisely the opposite: in these tragic events, literature can definitely play a certain role, if only Chinese writers decided to finally speak out, “to write about those who are afflicted or alienated” or bear witness to the “absurdity” of the ongoing historical circumstance. But Chinese writers, bounded as they are by the “choices of political correctness,” “fragile and weak like penguins at the South Pole,” and comfortable, after all, in their warm “padded jackets,” are, according to Yan Lianke, mostly turning a deaf ear, and in some cases are even taking part in the ritual of collective celebration singing their “hymns of praise” and “applauding” their own very impotence.
When he was writing these words, however, Yan Lianke was also well aware of the existence of a few contrary cases—in particular, that of a Chinese writer who, in the midst of the prevailing conformity, raised her voice loud and clear, showing that Chinese writers also can, upon the advent of a national calamity, prove to be of some relevance, and that even Chinese literature, if only it tried to, could exert a certain power. Obviously, we are referring here to Fang Fang 方方, the sixty-five year-old author from Wuhan who beginning January 25 of this year documented the state of Wuhan’s quarantine every day for two months, “giving voice with her pen,” as Yan Lianke had said, to her “memory and experience” and to those of the citizens of Wuhan in the days of their long and painful reclusion.
New book, by Paul Bevan, in Brill's China Studies series (vol. 41)
"In Intoxicating Shanghai Paul Bevan explores the work of a number of Chinese modernist figures in the fields of literature and the visual arts, with an emphasis on the literary group the New-sensationists and its equivalents in the Shanghai art world, examining the work of these figures as it appeared in pictorial magazines. It undertakes a detailed examination into the significance of the pictorial magazine as a medium for the dissemination of literature and art during the 1930s. The research locates the work of these artists and writers within the context of wider literary and art production in Shanghai, focusing on art, literature, cinema, music, and dancehall culture, with a specific emphasis on 1934 – ‘The Year of the Magazine’.""https://brill.com/view/title/54636
What better way to spend lockdown than having a shot at literary translation? You know you always wanted to try it, so why not have a go now? Paper Republic and The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing have partnered up to offer an essay by Deng Anqing as a piece for first-time translators. Deadline 30th April 2020, and details here: https://writingchinese.leeds.ac.uk/give-it-a-go-translation/
A number of emigrée authors are consciously choosing to write in a foreign language, rather than their mother tongue. For instance, among Chinese from the PRC, there are Xiaolu Guo in the UK and Yiyun Li in the US. Some because they believe -- rightly, I'd say -- that this will help shorten overall time-to-market. But others for different reasons.
I found this conversation between two writers, Japan's Yoko Tawada, now living in Germany and writing in German, and Madeleine Thien, daughter of a Chinese couple who moved to Canada, to be interesting from this perspective:
Madeleine Thien: When your narrator makes the leap onto the train, it’s a big leap. Maybe, in some ways, before, women in literature, when they make a big change, it must be a leap. It’s a somersault. The forces are so intense that you have to have so much propulsion to risk another life. Whereas maybe men can sort of blur from one position to another, or there’s more shading from self to self. I have the feeling that women, for a long time, if they wanted to make that jump, it was a deep cut. A break.
Yoko Tawada: Yes, that’s right. Today my friends, my male friends, do not want to go abroad or live in Europe. For a certain time, or if they’re working for a Japanese company, then it’s okay.
I first read Wu He’s novel around 2000 shortly after it was initially published. I was immediately struck by the author’s unique narrative voice, unconventional style, and the world of Taiwan indigenous culture which the book explores. I ended up writing about the novel in my 2008 monograph, A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film and eventually decided to translate the novel. As a literary translator, I think I was also attracted by the unique set of challenges the novel presented, which were very different than anything I had ever previously encountered.
Aside from being the best depiction of deep-seated family drama I’ve read since Franzen’s The Corrections, I love how Harman’s translation captures some of the distinctive features of Ge’s colloquial Chinese. Shengqiang is foul-mouthed and blunt, his friends equally so, and the descriptions of the town life are vivid and—despite the cultural differences—brought me back to my own small-town childhood.
It was bad enough that author Fang Fang (方方) has regularly posted her popular Wuhan Diary (武汉日记) on China’s social media, offering her personal — and not occasionally, critical — comments on the effects of the deadly epidemic during the lockdown, penned at Ground Zero. Reports The Diplomat (Conscience of Wuhan):
. . . each entry in Fang’s Wuhan Diary has been consistently deleted by Beijing’s censors within an hour or so of it being posted on Fang’s social media page. Yet each post has gone viral before being struck down, being shared by millions of WeChatters within China and abroad.
In the past, when writing about the realities in China, it was hard to find a milestone-type of event that has significance as a topic for writing. Sometimes you think there is a key event, but its significance disappears very quickly because, no matter what happens, there’s always the opposite argument and explanation. Things that you think matter often don’t matter to others. Even with big topics like the Cultural Revolution, some think it’s good, some think it’s bad, and others think it’s best not to discuss it. So it has been hard to find a starting point.
But the virus has already had a deeper impact on the people than even the  Sichuan earthquake [that killed 69,000]. The virus causes isolation and shutdown, which mirrors the isolation and shutdown in Chinese society, and also because it was directly the result of controlling speech and clamping down on “rumors.” Everyone is isolated, even though it’s not necessary. This is symbolic. During normal times, people aren’t free but they don’t feel it, but now everyone feels their unfreedom.
Thomas Bird profiles one of the most prolific Chinese-to-English literary translators around, Nicky Harman:
I stopped teaching in 2011 to focus on translation and have been very busy ever since. I love the fact that I work with living authors and have had the luck to translate a range of works – Jia Pingwa’s long novels about the countryside, Dorothy Tse Hiu-hung’s short fiction about a distinctly surreal Hong Kong, Chen Xiwo’s dark stories that offer excoriating insights on human nature, and Yan Ge’s and Huang Beijia’s novels about growing up and behaving badly, to name a few.
Their investigation takes us from creepy commuter-train-gropers to the dark reaches of the internet, where evil festers in many forms — online bullies and sexual predators as well as shady tech businesses, fake websites and chat rooms, even voices in people’s heads. If you’re not nervous reading “Second Sister” on the subway, you will be when you venture online.
Bertrand Mialaret reviews Chi Zijian's newly published Neige et Corbeaux, French edition of Chi Zijian's 白雪黑鸭:
In “White Snow, Black Crows”, Chi Zijian wanted to revive [Harbin's] Fujiadian before and during the [pneumonic] plague epidemic by showing the impact of the disease on daily life and its limitations; “in other words, I wanted to put aside the bleached skeletons and describe life under the cloud of death” (p.360). Yet the number of deaths in Fujiadian exceeded 5,000, or nearly three out of every ten people.
The characters are many and very diverse: a eunuch, Zhai Yisheng, a redeemed prostitute, a Russian singer, Sennikova, a restaurant, a distillery, grain storage areas. The town of Harbin is an important character.
Many aspects remind us of the Covid-19 epidemic that we are experiencing and the attitude of our fellow citizens who lack discipline; perhaps they think like in Harbin, that contagion is inevitable and that one can lead a normal life!
La première fois que j’ai vécu une épidémie de maladie infectieuse à grande échelle, c’était en 2003, au moment de l’épidémie de Sras en Chine. Mon mari venait de mourir peu de temps auparavant dans un accident de voiture ; j’étais plongée dans une douleur si profonde que je n’en voyais pas le fond. L’irruption soudaine de cette épidémie virulente dans mon existence, après la catastrophe que je venais de subir, m’a fait comprendre qu’une maladie de ce genre était aussi effrayante qu’un accident de la circulation : elle apporte tout doucement sans faire de bruit la mort dans son sillage.
The author Fang Fang has been writing some fiery blog posts since being locked down in her home city of Wuhan.
Now, thanks to the brilliant Brigitte Duzan, a couple of these blogs are in French, on Brigitte's website. The original blogs in Chinese (frequently taken down as soon as they went up) have apparently found a more stable home on Caixin.